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People Don’t Buy Capabilities, They Buy Knowledge
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A visual of a head with gears where the brain goes, and knowledge spilling out of it.

This guy might have too much knowledge.

Knowledge is power

Most of our tools and applications deliver capabilities, but users and buyers are always hoping that what they’re buying is knowledge. Knowledge of how to do the job. How to do the job faster, or with fewer errors, or with better outcomes. If we don’t put the knowledge in, the our users have to figure it all out themselves. They have to become experts in our tools when they really just want to be experts in their job.

Even if it’s basic knowledge that everyone knows, putting it in your product will make your product more valuable. And of course, the more knowledge you can embed, the better.

There are a ton of good examples:

  • Instagram (filters)
  • LinkedIn (“The most successful profiles have…”)
  • SAP (the Reference Model)
  • iPhone (visual voicemail)
  • Slack (Slackbot, do this then that)
  • IFTTT (example recipes, that are then augmented by shared customer recipes)
  • Any product that has a setup wizard or onboarding process
  • And it doesn’t have to be built in – can be an email-based onboarding process
  • NetIQ (Knowledge Scripts)

It’s not an accident that all of these examples are market-leading or paradigm changing. Compare what they delivered in their product versus what their competitors delivered. With rare exceptions, the competitors were offering the same capabilities but not in the form of defaults or a pre-made experience.

Examples

  • Instagram: If you’re delivering a photo app, it’s obvious to include the capabilities of editing and adjusting the images. And most photo apps have that capability. But Instagram one-upped its competitors by putting well-designed default filters front and center. Users no longer had to learn how to adjust a photo to increase the drama or appeal. An expert had already figured that out, and Instagram put that expert in your hand. (This is one of the ideas in my bonus content for this post.)
  • iPhone Visual Voicemail: I’ve said before that the iPhone’s Visual Voicemail feature is one of my favorite examples of killer product management. Today it seems kind of boring, until you are faced with a Cisco Internet phone on your desk, for example. All of us can do regular old voicemail (like the stupid Cisco system). We just hate it! Visual Voicemail takes all that stuff that we used to have to do manually and hides it all behind a “knowledge-full” experience. The iPhone was the first cell phone with this feature built in according to Wikipedia.

Low hanging fruit

The good news for all of us product managers is that the bar is extremely low in this area. Most of our competitors are not putting knowledge in their applications. Chances are you’re not either. So a little bit of embedded knowledge can create a lot of differentiation.

The other piece of good news is that defaults and knowledge provide differentiation in two ways. First, they provide the knowledge. But almost as importantly, they make the customer feel like you care about them, because you gave them knowledge. How many Instagram photos use a different filters than the default? It’s a very small percentage. But the idea that those other filters are there is extremely comforting.

Put this idea to use

Here are three things you can start doing today to put more knowledge into your application so you’re not just selling capabilities. (Or get the freebie for these and an additional bonus idea!)

  1. Find out how experts configure or interact with your product. Then create templates based on what the experts do. For example, if your product is a project management system, how do experts configure their projects? Create a project template based on their configuration. If your product is a collaboration tool, how do experts set up their groups and notifications? Give your users the option to have their system set up with groups and notifications based on that model.
  2. Look for situations in your application where most users take the same steps in the same order, most of the time. Make this set of steps the default, and make it achievable in a single action. You might want to leave the other options available, but if most people are doing the same thing most of the time, make it very, very easy to do that thing. (This is an example of the knowledge of the crowd, not of an expert, but it’s still knowledge.)
  3. You can also use your own insights into how the product should be used to get the most value. This is especially valuable if your customers are not currently getting as much value as they could. Sometimes this is because the steps to achieve the value are complex, easy to forget, or error-prone. Sometimes it’s because you expect the user to do some work outside the application to achieve the benefit. A great example is retrospectives. All us tool builders know that our customers will be more successful over time if they do retrospectives. And there’s actually very strong research data that says how much more successful they’ll be. However, no (or very few) project management/collaboration/development tools actually support retrospectives directly. Even if you can’t do it perfectly, if you put that capability into your product and our competitors don’t have it, at minimum you have a good differentiator. Ideally your customers will actually get the value of the capability (retrospectives in this example), and that will enable them to beat their competitors.

Over to you

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re putting knowledge into your application. Please leave a comment or drop me an email.

And if you have other good examples of applications that include knowledge, I’d love to keep building my list.

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